Carstairs bosses deny public safety at risk

Carstairs endured a difficult April, overspending by �200k. Picture: Phil Dye
Carstairs endured a difficult April, overspending by �200k. Picture: Phil Dye
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MANAGEMENT at a hospital which houses some of Scotland’s most dangerous criminals have proposed closing one of its wards as a way of tackling unsustainable overspending.

The flagship State Hospital at Carstairs is exceeding its monthly budget by hundreds of thousands of pounds, putting pressure on officials to scale back its outgoings.

With increased overtime costs and high sickness absence levels, the hospital’s interim chief executive has admitted that the status quo “cannot go on”. As a result, George Brechin has outlined “major changes” to the way the hospital is run, including the temporary closure of one of its 12 wards.

Mr Brechin has admitted the plans are “unexpected” and will give rise to “concerns” among overworked staff. Amid fears any ward closure will lead to patients with violent histories being rehoused in less secure accommodation, a spokeswoman for the hospital stressed Carstairs would maintain its “absolute commitment” to admit anyone assessed as needing its care.

The admission of financial difficulties is an embarrassment for management at the state hospital which was reopened two years ago by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after a £90 million rebuild.

That project was designed to ensure what NHS Scotland described as a “sustainable, high-quality, cost-effective service that will provide specialist care that matches individual needs and levels of security”. The revamped hospital, it added, “will be better for patients, staff and the general public”.

The high-security hospital has around 700 staff who look after up to 144 patients, but it is understood it has been running at less than full capacity recently, with 129 patients at present.

Although the Lanarkshire facility has an annual budget of £40m, figures show it is unable to rein in spending. In the first month of this financial year, it exceeded its monthly budget by £200,000.

Mr Brechin told staff: “We need to make major changes in the way we currently do things. Overtime is higher than last year while, on the most recent figures, our sickness levels remain the highest in the Scottish NHS. We are overspent this one month by £200,000. This 
cannot go on, and the load on staff is not sustainable.

“I am setting up a small team to work on the possible temporary closure of one of the 12 wards in the hospital. This would reduce our bed capacity from a theoretical 144 to a theoretical 132.”

Mr Brechin added: “I recognise this news may well be unexpected and I appreciate that some colleagues will have concerns. It is not some sort of magic bullet. Work continues in other areas – for example, 
reducing the levels of sickness absence.”

A spokeswoman for the state hospital said: “The state hospital exists to provide specialist forensic mental health care in a high-secure setting. Any person assessed as needing our care is and will continue to be admitted – there is no ‘waiting list’.

“Sickness levels in the hospital are much higher than the average for NHS Scotland. Management and trade unions are working closely together to understand why this is happening, and to introduce improvements.

“To ensure we maintain care and security, when someone is sick their shift is filled, often through overtime. April was a particularly difficult month with very high sickness levels and the Easter holidays.”